Free the Girls -- Recycling Bras for a Cause!
Most women take bras for granted. Unless you were a 1960s feminist burning bras to fight the patriarchy or you are a new mom trying to find a nursing bra that works, bras are so ingrained in our culture (and our closets) that we often don't think twice about them unless we have to. However, in marginalized communities this is not the case.
As a result of sanitary fears combined with women wearing bras until they literally wear out, bras are not often donated to charities and secondhand stores. Ferguson comments on this in her article "The Huge Impact of Donated Bras":
"A bra is a professional, and often social, necessity for most women larger than an A cup. That includes women experiencing homelessness and other people who rely on donated or subsidized clothes. Bras are rarely given to local charities, which makes it extremely hard to find bras that fit, let alone look good under clothes (and out of clothes)" (Ferguson, 2018).
Ferguson articulates the risks homeless women (and other marginalized women) face who don't have access to bras. One of the three founders of the organization Be a Dear and Donate a Brassiere states to Ferguson, “If you’re voluptuous, and you get hot and sweaty and you’re not bathing as much, you can get rashes and serious sores.”
Like most other textiles, bras are also extremely hard or impossible to recycle in any standard way--so bras end up in the trashcan, and subsequently the landfill. During a recent meeting with the SLO Integrated Waste Management Association (IWMA), I was informed that clothing gets caught in the sorting machines at a garbage facility. When this happens, there is danger of the machine breaking. The machine has to be shut down, the garment ripped out, and thrown in the trash pile. Finding a means to either repurpose an old bra or get it into the hands of a woman in need is our best solution.
During the month of November, HumanKind Fair Trade in downtown SLO is hosting a bin for the organization Free the Girls. Free the Girls works with women who are survivors of sex trafficking in Mozambique, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. Donations of gently used or new-with-tags bras are given to these women to sell in markets. Women who were previously uneducated, had no job training, and were victimized are now working as entrepreneurs to sell bras that are in high demand.
Here are some Guidelines for Donating: